A few thoughts on Arkansas beer
Here are a few thoughts on Arkansas beer that I’m having at the moment, in no particular order:
Lost Forty is doing amazing things. First and foremost, the quality of Lost Forty is really, really high. The brewers make a consistent product that is free of defect. Although it’s a relatively boring topic, without quality there is nothing else to say. The exciting part of Lost Forty’s work is the sheer diversity of beer coming out of the brewhouse. Porters, fruit beers, wild beers, hazy IPAs…the list goes on and on and on. Combine quality, consistency, and diversity—and add a splash of creative branding and smart business leadership—and you have a worthy flagship brewery for the state of Arkansas. It will be interesting to see how much distance there is between Lost Forty, the state’s largest beer producer by volume, and second place when the 2018 production numbers are reported. I’m willing to bet it’s significant.
Rural breweries are coming on strong. Gravity BrewWorks and Prestonrose led the way, but just in the last year or so Slate Rock opened in Amity, Six Mile popped up in Ozark, and Country Monks set up shop in Subiaco. Norfork and Bubba Brew’s—and maybe Rapp’s Barren and Brick and Forge Works if you consider Mountain Home and Harrison “rural”—round out the list of breweries in rural places. In my mind this is a defining characteristic of the Arkansas beer scene. It seems that people in places that didn’t have much (if any) access to craft beer before a brewery opened have embraced it nevertheless. In these cases beer is as local as local can get. Folks in small towns are flocking to taprooms. When people wonder if there’s a limit to growth in Arkansas beer, the rural phenomenon has to be a part of the answer. With its limited population, the state can only support a few as big as Lost Forty, Ozark, and Core. But there are a large number of small communities that can foster breweries of their own.
Arkansas beer deserves more media coverage. I really don’t see much written about Arkansas beer in the national media. I’ve pitched a few stories to the big boys of beer journalism, but thus far none have been picked up for publication (with the exception of a travel piece that ran a couple years ago in All About Beer). The Fayetteville Flyer and Rock City Eats do a great job with beer coverage, albeit in a digital format. But I’m the kind of guy who still likes to hold a book in his hand rather than download content to a Kindle. For that reason it’s nice to see a new glossy magazine covering the Arkansas beer scene coming to life. Brewed In Arkansas makes its debut next week at the Flying Saucer in Little Rock. The magazine’s publisher, Becca Bona, said issue one will be focused on the Little Rock market and the second will highlight Northwest Arkansas. From there she’ll dedicate an issue to the breweries that fall outside the state’s two major metropolitan areas. Look for brewer/brewery profiles, home brewing articles, and industry commentary. There are a lot of great writers involved in the project, and I’m excited to contribute to the issue dedicated to the northwest. Hopefully it turns into a regular gig.
There’s no place for misogyny in the Arkansas beer community. Last week was a tumultuous one for beer journalism in general. The publisher of the Brewing News family of newspapers wrote and published a controversial story in the Great Lakes Brewing News that he claimed was satire. The problem was that the story ran without a disclaimer of any sort ON THE FRONT PAGE OF THE PAPER. I won’t go into detail about what was in the piece. Blogger Robin LeBlanc covered that base pretty well if you’re interested in digging in for yourself. As the Arkansas columnist for the Southwest Brewing News—which is a sister publication—I was taken aback by what Bill Metzger wrote. It really was jaw-dropping. I don’t know Metzger, but those that do say the satirical persona he assumed for the story is the opposite of how he views gender and diversity issues. He has since agreed to give up his ownership in the Brewing News and distance himself from the publications. Maybe he is a victim of his own poor judgment and isn’t that bad a guy after all. Who knows? What is clear is that the beer community has high standards for decency and respect. That’s why we must continue to challenge ourselves here in Arkansas when it comes to marketing our beer. Last year I wrote about what I felt was a miscalculation by one of the O.G.’s of the state’s brewing industry. Objectification of women, as Bill Metzger discovered, can lead to swift and disastrous blowback from the beer community. We need to be mindful of that and make good decisions that are respectful and inclusive of all.
Beer festivals are the the happiest places on earth. A couple of weeks ago I attended Frost Fest in Fayetteville. I wrote about how excited I was in the days leading up to the event, and boy did it deliver the goods. The weather was great, the beer was awesome, and I got a chance to hook up with old friends and make some new ones in the process. I really enjoyed meeting Kenny Peden from Brick & Forge Brew Works for the first time. He is a great twitter follow if you’re on that platform. And it’s always awesome to catch up with the Little Rock contingent—including Scott Parton (AKA WooPigBrewey!), John Lee from Rebel Kettle, and the folks from Lost Forty. I need to give a special shout out to Sylvia Blain, the executive director of the Arkansas Brewers Guild, for replacing the t-shirt I bought and “accidentally” dropped before exiting the festival grounds. I’m quite certain the umpteen beers I consumed that day had nothing to do with my butter fingers. There’s another awesome beer festival coming up on May 11 in Hot Springs that I’m planning to attend. My wife is from there and we have had a lot of fun at that particular festival over the last few years. It looks like a bunch of Arkansas breweries will once again be in attendance, and if past experience is an indication, there will be plenty of great food and revelry awaiting festival goers. Check out the Hot Springs Craft Beer Festival website for more information and ticket purchases. The major beneficiary of the festival is the Spa City Blues Society.
BDCS is on the way. I received an e-mail from Ozark Beer Co. last week announcing the release of this year’s Bourbon Barrel-aged Double Cream Stout (or BDCS for short). Ozark describes the 2019 version as having “notes of fudge, vanilla and oak.” It is estimated to weigh in at 10.3% ABV and 69 IBUs. BDCS is, quite frankly, the very best beer Arkansas has to offer. I know that beer is a subjective thing, and it’s hard to declare a “best.” But there is somewhat of a consensus among Arkansas beer enthusiasts that BDCS is indeed the best. Ozark is celebrating the 2019 release with a couple of release parties and a more deliberate approach to distribution. Check out the brewery’s website for more information. Unfortunately I will be spring breaking with my children that week, but hopefully you can experience this behemoth of a brew for yourself.